Gardeners should cut their grass less and let their gardens go wild to help bees, the Government has urged, as it joins a growing ‘no-mow’ movement.
Mowing lawns can remove vital sources of food for bees and other pollinators, which are crucial for improving biodiversity and crop quality.
The advice, which is also aimed at farmers and managers of urban green spaces, such as councils, includes limiting pesticide use and growing more shrubs.
“Bees and other pollinators are not just a welcome and much loved sight in our gardens, parks, villages and countryside – they are vital to a healthy environment, driving our economy and boosting biodiversity,” said Environment Minister Rebecca Pow.
“Everyone can help them flourish by leaving patches of garden to grow wild, growing more flowers, cutting grass less often, not disturbing insect nests, and carefully considering how we use pesticides.”
The Government joins a growing movement to reduce the amount of lawn mowing, which has seen several councils commit to reduce mowing of verges and patches of urban grassland.
At least 30 councils have signed up to ‘No Mow May’, a campaign led by conservation charity Plantlife. The charity said the number of people leaving their lawns unmown for a month before taking part in its annual flower survey had more than doubled between 2019 and 2020.
Since the 1930s, the UK has lost 97 per cent of its wildflower meadows, leaving species such as harebell and field scabious at risk of disappearing.
Reducing mowing, and pesticide use, can also boost soil health and its ability to lock away carbon.
High profile figures including gardener Monty Don are among those who have called on gardeners and councils to stop mowing.
Monty Don has said neat lawns are a mostly male obsession
The Gardeners’ World presenter has said frequent lawn mowing is a largely “male” obsession which is "about the most injurious thing you can do to wildlife".
King’s College, Cambridge has turned its Chapel lawn into a wildflower meadow, allowing people to walk on it for the first time in 300 years. Salisbury Cathedral has also committed to turn parts of its Close into a meadow, and stop mowing its entire site once a year.
Plantlife recommends gardeners go for a ‘Mowhican’ style cut, mowing some areas once a month but leaving other parts long.
Ian Dunn, its CEO said: "This approach allows short sward ‘mower duckers’ like selfheal and bird’s-foot trefoil to flourish alongside beautiful taller species like field scabious or even wild orchids. This layered look is the sweet spot in terms of nectar and pollen production and what bees need this week and beyond!”
Pollinators contribute the equivalent of £500m to British agriculture and food production in their value to crop quantity and quality, according to the environment ministry.
But they are under threat from habitat fragmentation, climate change, and pesticide use, with many populations in decline. A 2019 report by WWF and conservation charity Buglife found 17 species of bees had been lost to the East of England, and another 56 were at risk.
Mr Dunn said: “Cutting grass less and later is great for nature. A more relaxed approach to mowing the lawn benefits plants, pollinators, people and planet.
"Not only do wild flowers flourish, creating a botanical bounty for the bees and butterflies that depend on them, but also climate emissions from mowers are lowered, and people ‘win back’ time to enjoy garden wildlife and connect to nature."
Not everyone has been as convinced by the no-mow movement.
Fellow gardening presenter Alan Titchmarsh has said maintaining his striped lawn is good for his mental health.
“I find that a small piece of striped lawn does me a power of good,” he said.
Medway council, in Kent, said it would no longer take part in No Mow May after residents complained about the state of its verges, with some saying drivers’ views were being restricted at junctions.
But Marian Spain, the CEO of Natural England, called on people to ask their councils to leave their road verges long.
“The importance of connecting with nature for our health and happiness has never been clearer. With such a growing public interest in the environment, I hope everyone can help support our wonderful and wild insect pollinators,” she said.
Buglife welcomed the advice from the Government, which is part of a weeklong campaign to raise awareness of bees.
“We encourage everyone to do their bit to help save our pollinators, create habitat and forage in gardens and balconies whilst throwing away the pesticides,” said a spokesperson. “The sum of all our small steps will be a big step up for our pollinators.”